By Lisa Couture
Cancer has intersected my path on several occasions. When I was a child, my best friend’s mother had a double mastectomy. Later in life, my mother-in-law had a very short experience with colon cancer. Then, we lost my uncle to lung cancer. But it was a phone call from a friend I hadn’t talked to in a while that really opened the door to cancer.
She was my age. She had kids the same age as mine. She wasn’t supposed to have cancer. How could SHE have cancer? I had unconsciously and foolishly equated cancer with age, or at least an age beyond my own. I was wrong.
My deeply loved friend opened a whole new world to me. I learned new words, protocols, percentages, and rates of survival. I learned about amputating body parts (or sections of them), about chemo brain, and a thousand medications a day. I rode this roller coaster in every way she would allow me to, and all the while I hid what I was feeling to make sure I could be there for her. I never let her see my pain or fear. I never allowed myself to show her anything but hope and the promise that this was all going to be okay.
When she asked if I was interested in going with her on a retreat as her “supporter,” I wasn’t sure I was qualified. I never labeled myself a supporter before, but a retreat with my friend seemed like another way I could be there for her. She explained about Young Adult Cancer Canada (YACC) and going to Newfoundland. And you know what? I still didn’t get it. I still didn’t understand anything except that I needed to be there for her.
The first day of our retreat ended with a “closing circle.” It was an introduction to the others who were there and a chance to really talk about what brought us together. This was the first day I really understood. Sitting in that circle were some of the most talented, caring, gentle, open, and fierce young adults, diverse in every way possible except that dreaded “c” word. They talked about their journeys, were more honest than I had ever heard strangers be, and were so respectful of each other. They were real.
That day I made a connection I had not before. I had a voice as a supporter and a place that valued both the supporter and survivors’ experiences. That week changed my life from the inside out. Not only was I there for my friend, but every day opened a new piece of self discovery. It was healing in a way I didn’t even know I needed.
So how do I feel about YACC? A lot of organizations promise you things they cannot deliver. We live in a society of epic promise with very little delivery, a society bent on self interest and self promotion. YACC is a place that promises and delivers. They say they have your back, and they do. Once you become a part of this community, you immediately have support and other people who will “get” you in a way others cannot. The staff at YACC are incredible and care genuinely about you. I was never a number or “just” a supporter. My story mattered to them.
When YACC decided to create a Localife chapter in Vancouver, I couldn’t wait for the chance to give back to this organization. I would have done anything to repay what I had received at my retreat. The irony was the more I participated, the more I felt I had to repay. Every event became like that circle of discovery.
As a Localife leader, I see people open up, share, and give. I see people sit quietly and observe, not ready to open up, but taking it all in as they see that someone else does get it. I see people in ALL stages of treatment reclaim their lives from this label called “cancer” and reinvent themselves. But what I mostly see is human beings coming together to support each other in a way that is inspiring. Sometimes it is in what is said, and other times in the silence. There is laughter and recognition.
I have had the privilege and honour to support YACC for two years with the best partner and co-leader in Bernadette Leno, and now it is time for some new leaders to take over. I can never repay the ways I have been encouraged, inspired, and overwhelmed by what people can give to one other. If you need support, or a place to hang out and have fun with other young adults who just might understand something about your life that other people can’t get, then Localife is the place for you.
So come to YACC, and see for yourself. They had my back, and they will have yours.